Safety Nets and Backup Plans

Plan BIntelligent decision making requires the use of all weapons in our arsenal. Careless decision making is far easier. Except for a situation that is of so little importance that anything works, or is so simple nothing fails, the route to a less than a stupid decision must always follow a critical path to a goal. You can’t fix stupid, so where do you go next? A successful outcome comes from a carefully chosen sticky methodology that forces us to go from a starting point and end with an inescapable completion of the mission. The path to career success depends on choices at the beginning and dealing with pop-up obstacles. Deviations happen because the distance between two points is only a straight line in geometry books.

“I have a Plan B” is what people say to others when they want to convince others there are available alternatives. The transparency of this threat becomes obvious when lack of action pokes holes in reality.

“I have a Plan B” is what people say to themselves when they want to convince themselves that somewhere there is a better way. Failing to muster up the courage to do anything differently shows it wasn’t a plan after all.

“I have a Plan B” is what thinking people think when they want to want to sit down and consciously examine the current situation, evaluate their goals, and plot a new course. Reason prevails over emotions for those who are not risk averse.

“I have a Plan B” is what confident people know when they actively go after their goals and find a way to arrive where they are supposed to be. There is no pay if you don’t play.

Passive voices are pushovers for procrastination. No amount of sitting around can move us toward where we ought to go. It should be intuitively obvious that risk takers will get there while others fail. Wire walkers who stop mid course will fall into an abyss or a net. If only we could remember to build that net.


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Life and Career Analogs

In a recent impromptu interview with award winning movie writer/director Edward Lyons, a story I hope he will someday allow me to record and promote, something clicked in my brain. My career in talent acquisition in a corporate world is not so different from his. Even though he could have been a great actor or teacher of actors, he has a calling to lead talented people through his craft from the other side of the lens. I don’t think I am unique in recognizing that anyone who makes a conscious choice to fulfill a lifelong destiny, regardless of the environment, at some point in time becomes acutely aware of the impact of their actions on other fellow travelers on our planet. If that choice is because of misplaced loyalties, misunderstood motives, or merely money, we are likely to overlook the primary reason we are here. It’s about them. It’s also keenly about ourselves.

When actors audition for a seemingly endless trail of parts, are they so different from unemployed or unsatisfied corporate ladder climbers who can rationalize rejection and turn obstacles into excuses? When opportunity finally rings up, and there is a life altering decision at hand, how does anyone ever dig up the courage to take the path that is best for them and everyone else? When we are holding others from success instead of pushing them, or they hold us back, where is the escape to a better place? So many questions… so many questions… not enough answers.

The answers to life come from faith. There must be a faith in a power outside of ourself, a faith in those we trust, and most importantly a faith in self. Those simple things are not the cure for all ills, but to clear the brambles from our paths, to make courageous decisions, to truly be a help to others, it takes more faith than we can often find. We also have to know that it’s OK to ask for help. Knowing who to ask for help is critical to creating, building, or restoring faith. If you don’t have a director for your life script, find one.

Another key point analogous to people of all callings is that of forgiveness. Without forgiving that thing often called fate for tampering with our lives, the forgiveness of others for real or imagined wrongs, and forgiving ourselves for past mistakes, we can become our own worst enemies. We need to own all of our actions. Without hindsight, there is no foresight. Some would call that simply learning from experience rather than constantly reliving it.

This epiphany of mine isn’t all that special or unique. We have to be aware of the forces around us, tailor it like an off-the-rack suit until it fits perfectly, and then wear it proudly. If it doesn’t fit, it’s our fault. That is a universal truth. We may never find that proverbial meaning of life, but we can get closer to understanding our purpose and recognize our value.

If you don’t care about yourself or others, please disregard this.


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Go Forth and Spam No More

The debate rages on at conferences, meetings, online media, and in just plain gossip. Why does everyone say they hate spam and then engage in the same practices they deplore? This is especially puzzling when the spaminator is a recruiter who is not only supposed to know better, but also needs to woo a target audience… not turn them off. Is it the fault of the individual generating the spam or the people that encourage them to do it? Probably a little of both, but it’s complicated. We live in an age where people record TV shows so they can skip commercials, screen caller IDs to blow off telemarketers, and have email filters to prevent all but the chosen few to reach us. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to be aware of this environment, so either spaminators are misled by the people who manage them or they are simply flailing about in totally ignorant bliss. Which is it? Many factors are in play.

  • Ironically, the prerequisite for being a recruiting manager doesn’t necessarily include prior experience working in the trenches of recruitment. Without first-hand knowledge, it can be flying by the seat of the pants… making it up as they do it. Part of their job should be discovering innovative approaches for the acquisition of talent, but often it becomes a matter of trial and error using their subordinates as the guinea pigs. Blame like other smelly stuff rolls downhill. Giving these bosses the benefit of the doubt, they are between a rock and a hard place. The measure of their success means they must measure recruiters’ performance using some made-up rule. It’s easier to measure quantity than quality and autospamming helps with the bottom line. It becomes worse when they assign quotas to recruiters and plant the seed that people are just numbers.
  • There is often an overall management mentality that encourages short term profit before relationship building. Success may be only a small percentage of the total number of robotic attempts to hire, but measured against nothing it is still misinterpreted as success. Casting a wide net to catch a few fish is better than no fish at all. There are often no real benchmarks for the quality of people hired through mass marketing methods, so the easier measure of short-term income is accepted as the norm. Organizations that figure out how to measure quality of hires are less likely to resort to spam sourcing. Unfortunately for spam haters, things like turnover rate, time to productivity, cultural fit, engagement level, and error rate can be elements totally independent of the recruiting function. Training recruiters and hiring managers to recognize future potential would seem to be a better way.  
  • Without arguing either side of the argument about locating the corporate recruiting function under the HR umbrella, some human resources managers are more involved with internal people problems without thinking about how those could have been prevented through better recruitment. Dealing with a recruiting function that needs real data and metrics to satisfy their customers’ needs is not seen as a big priority. It would be easy to be cynical about the competence of the HR professionals, but for the most part they belong to organizations that do not see the value of budgeting for their inclusion. They will supply the caliber of support requested by upper management because they are empowered by them. Without pools of data and expensive software, the humble spreadsheet rules. Justification of applicant tracking is based on cost reduction rather than efficiency and capturing defensive EEO data rather than developing a viable talent market.
  • Companies that refuse to acknowledge the value of candidate experience don’t invest in its success. Quick turnaround and speed of hire become the prime factors in recruitment. Auto-hiring, AKA spamming, is used to lure and reel in prospects to achieve short-term results. Satisfying instant gratification in hiring is like a sugar rush that fades with time. Long term success in achieving company goals requires something else. Choosing to switch the focus to initial relationship management and long-term employee development reduces push back, improves quality of hire, protects the recruiting brand, and eliminates the need for spamming. Measuring the value of the candidate experience can be difficult to do, so many just choose to ignore it. Incorporating a reliable NPS metric can show value and justify positive investment in resources.

While we believe that people are not all stupid, the fact remains that many are willing to settle for the easy way out instead of doing the work necessary to do it correctly. It is easier to email blast without regard for a correct credentials match than to fine tune a human dialog methodology to engage according to skills and interest. When the objective is to nail a hire rather than ensure the right person is in the job, cultural fit and competency rules become less important than a quick fix. Maybe the question we should really be asking is “What’s so bad about spam anyway?” What if tolerance for robotic unthinking monolog is a matter of personal taste instead of some abhorrent practice? If the ultimate goal is to achieve mediocrity, it works just fine. If we set a standard that is a bit higher, it calls the practice into question. Ask any recruiter forced to defend the reputation of an entire profession because of the bad apples what they think… if you believe that there really are bad apples in the barrel.      

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Loosening the Life of Lethargy

Read any motivational book or blog post about accomplishing anything in business or in life and there is probably an underlying assumption that everyone wants to be lively and progressive. Sweet memes are made of this. Is this an unrealistic picture of the people we have become? When there are a gazillion daily temptations toward diversion and recreation we may be seeing a clue that there is a hidden part of us that craves something other than business and busy-ness. Are we basically creatures of laziness looking for an escape? We have evolved our culture into one that looks for the easy way to do things and the tools of innovation are often technological gimmicks that pledge to make our lives easier… and allow us to lapse into comfortable, relaxing, and eternal lethargy.

Are there rules for getting rid of this demon? There probably isn’t a cure for lethargic leanings because it is so personal in nature. For some, when the pendulum swings too far in the other direction we go about everything with such a frenetic energy that it has the same result – accomplishing nothing. The rule for something that has no rule is to apply logic and common sense per the reality of each situation. Some examples are:

  • People Management – The easy way is to lump everybody of a certain age group, gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation into comfortable buckets where thinking is not required. It’s more work to think of individual needs than the stereotypes associated with a group. Taking the time to listen and consider the needs of the individual highlights the better way of escaping from the lazy way out: time management. If we budget our available time to handle important things like listening and hearing it would be easier to deal with distractions that would take us down the lazy path.
  • Hiring Management – The easy way is to consider it a mechanical process that always follows a set of neatly prescribed rules. Recruitment by robotically inclined people will ultimately give way to a process that is totally dehumanized and managed by robots. Nobody is well served by this solution. Realizing that this is a specialized subset of people management is the key to unlocking access to the talent marketplace: relationship management. Influencing people by building relationships instead of processes ultimately makes it happen without the negative impact of conflict generated by do-nothing laziness.
  • Career Management – The easy way is to avoid possible rejection and failure by retreating to the comfort of a keyboard and computer screen for information and application. The eagerness to apply technology to solve an immediate need can result in missing the human aspect of a career which is to forge a personal destiny among other persons. Computers don’t hire people. This is the flip side of hiring management because it is working with others to get results: partnership management. Nobody must do it alone and disregard the totality of the effort makes being lazy look attractive.

Managing the various aspects of a complex life means two things: making choices and assigning priorities. First, we need to decide what is important and then we must set about doing it. Are human beings by nature lazy? The answer to that question is totally irrelevant! Being productive is a choice; so is being lazy.


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The Worst Advice Ever: Be Authentic

authenticdefinitionIt is possible to wear out a good thing by overusing it. Tap someone once with a finger and you get their attention… do it repeatedly and you make a bruise. The same is true with using words until they become so stale that they induce nausea. Listen to the advice given to someone looking for a job in a tough market and you will undoubtedly hear the advice to be authentic. The problem with the well-wishers offering this sage advice is that nobody knows what that means anymore. Does it mean that people who are authentic liars should do the best job possible at lying? If pop labeling an action is important, then why not tell them to be organic? Or gluten free?

The best way to find out if something has been used up or reached maximum saturation is to look at motivational memes that use it out of context. There is authentic comedy in pictures of the word authentic offered to people who will make it a meaningless mantra to themselves and then share it as wisdom to others. I have a picture on my desk of a ship in a storm-tossed sea. It has meaning to me because I know who gave it to me, I know the circumstances of that gift, and it motivates me to make things happen. If I gave that to you, would you think I was suggesting that your life is a disaster and you are probably going to sink? Context is more important than slogans or mere words.

We live in an age where advertising slogans are created to induce people to buy things they don’t need for a price they can’t afford. We have lowered our defenses against the onslaught of meaningless propaganda to the point that we have trained ourselves to repeat it to others as if it were some kind of divine revelation. In doing so we have diluted the message and cast a borderline insult at the people we are trying to help. There is no point to advice that has a flimsy definition or cloudy understanding.

If somebody tells you to be authentic, engage your crap filters and go deeper into yourself. You don’t have to go back to some state of being that once existed. The original may be flawed or become broken in the process of living your life. The goal should be to become better than the original. There doesn’t seem to be a sliding scale of authenticity, but you are not a static being. You don’t have to be better than everyone else. You just have to be better than you are today. Only you can measure that.